Suffering most, as ever, are the innocent civilians caught in the crossfire
After 17 long years, peace still eludes the Afghans
Afghanistan may be known as “the graveyard of empires”, but few in 2001 would have expected the US-led invasion to depose the Taliban to be so drawn-out, bloody and unsuccessful. Seventeen years after it started, Afghanistan is America’s never-ending war, one that has cost around 2,400 US lives and more than $800 billion, and accomplished next to nothing.
In a speech in May 2003, then US President George W Bush declared: “In the Battle of Afghanistan, we destroyed the Taliban, many terrorists and the camps where they trained.” In hindsight, he could scarcely have been more wrong. In the intervening years, troop numbers have ebbed and flowed as external powers have repeatedly insisted that victory was in sight.
But today the Taliban fights on, while ISIS, largely driven out of Iraq and Syria, has regrouped and expanded on Afghanistan’s fragile soil. With insurgents active in 32 of 34 provinces, ISIS and the Taliban are locked in a grim turf war.
Suffering most, as ever, are the innocent civilians caught in the crossfire, at least 13 of whom have died every day on average since the war began.
By macabre coincidence, the conflict’s 17th anniversary on Sunday marked one of Afghanistan’s bloodiest days this year, with 55 people dying in 24 hours during a spate of terror attacks and airstrikes. It also highlighted the tangled network of internal and external actors exacerbating the suffering. Be it the dead civilians, government soldiers or Taliban fighters, all leave behind grieving families and broken communities.
Sunday’s bloodshed follows a wave of terror strikes that ripped through the capital, Kabul, in January and an attack on an election base in April that claimed 57 lives.
But in truth, for ordinary civilians trying simply to work and live in peace, the threat of violence is inescapable and ever-present. New and heart-breaking records of civilian casualties are being set day after day.
After a potential Eid ceasefire between the government and the Taliban faltered, there is little hope for peace in the country ahead of fresh elections next April. Meanwhile, Afghanistan remains beleaguered by poor governance, internal bickering, corruption and rampant security failures.
In fact, the history of foreign intervention in Afghanistan has been characterised by failure. Despite their vast investment – of dollars and troops – the US and its allies ultimately failed to provide a secure environment for domestic nation building.
The Afghan government, led by the urbane and well-intentioned Ashraf Ghani, has failed to build institutions and instil a sense of order.
In many ways, Sunday is the perfect illustration of how such ceaseless instability has torn this country apart. It marked an anniversary worthy of quiet contemplation, during which dozens more lives were lost to violence.